Julia gradually started to trust Renzo, who faithfully brought her small portions of food two or three times a day, and who treated her well, if sometimes ineptly. But her wounds got badly infected, and after that she felt herself to be in a losing battle. She didn't trust Renzo far enough to tell him that, for fear he'd finish her off, or turn her over to others who would do the same. Instead, she held on the best she could, and dragged herself to the front of the dugout now and then for welcome doses of fresh air and sunshine.
She wondered what it would be like to die. Some of her instructors had told her it was a matter of becoming oblivious, like going to sleep and never waking up. Others had said it was a matter of your spirit finally being free of your body and joining with other spirits in the vast expanse of the universe, where you'd all become one, and happily exist forever. She hadn't realized how incompatible those visions were until a bureaucrat who'd heard that both 'realities' were being taught at her breed school had tried to remedy the confusion by ordering that all Collies were to be taught that when they died they could choose which option applied to them. Even at the time, it had struck her as highly improbable that a dead person could choose anything. Now, as her earthly life slipped away from her, she was sure it was worse than highly improbable. It was insane. Death was like gravity. It pulled you down whether you wanted it to or not. It was real, real, real, and no amount of wishful thinking would change that.
She became convinced that both views were wrong. She was increasingly convinced that she would remain herself, forever, unassimilated but also aware, aware, very aware, instead of oblivious.
She became convinced that she would answer for what she had done in life, and equally convinced that the government had not let her learn the standards by which she'd be judged. Death began to frighten her in ways it hadn't, back when she was doing what she'd been taught to do, which was to think of death as little as possible, and to think of it, when you did, as a worthy and valuable aspect of government. Death prevented suffering. It cured suffering. When imposed by government, it increased fairness, by making sure that no one used more resources than she deserved. It was good, when meted out by wise leaders. It made society run smoothly. Or so she'd been taught.
None of that mattered now. She was in darkness, facing a blinding light.
She thought she heard a kind voice inviting her to remember something from a class she'd had on ancient worldviews, and to reconsider the advice to despise it.
She wasn't sure she could. She wasn't sure she should. She'd had the same temptation before, in good times, while soaking in the beauty of the world. Having practiced batting the temptation away then, she batted it away now.
She thought she heard the kind voice asking her to seek The Truth, behind the light, and accept help in understanding what she was up against, and why it mattered. Instead she tried to hide from it.
That failing, she tried to pretend it wasn't there.
That failing, she trembled, and cried out to the cave to collapse on her, as if layers of rock and dirt could shield her from what was coming.
The dugout not complying, she tried to pretend that nothing mattered now.
An excerpt from The Birdwatcher: